By Bedrana Kaletovic and Ljiljana Kovacevic
“For years now, I have the same picture night in and night out — a grenade falls beside the trench, an explosion and the co-fighterˈs screams, who was a mere metre away from me. I attempt to chase the scene away, but without success. I start to perspire, get out of the bed, light a cigarette, and so it has been for years,” a 50-year-old veteran of the BiH war told SETimes.
Mehmed Alic, another war veteran, has a similar story. He spent three years in the trenches, was shot four times and survived, despite doctors’ expectations.
However, the sniper shot that killed his close friend still haunts him. The feeling that the bullet was intended for him has been put in check since he shared his trauma with a psychologist.
Alic said it was hard to agree to see a psychologist, but he could no longer watch his family suffer because of his frequent mood swings.
“My own children avoided me. They said that they were sick of a dad who always shouted, never smiled and only talked about the war,” Alic said.
Experts note there is a constant increase of people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even though the war ended 16 years ago.
Former military are the most numerous victims, but do not seek professional help because of the fear of discrimination.
“Many avoid seeking help from professional psychologists or psychiatrists, because they are afraid they would lose a hard obtained employment,” Dragan Sajic, president of the Banja Luka Association Jedinstvo for people who suffer PTSD, told SETimes.
According to the World Health Organisation, 10% of BiH citizens, or 400,000 people, are diagnosed with PTSD. However, associations assisting PTSD sufferers claim the correct number is more than four times that.
Doctors explain that PTSD is a normal response to abnormal life conditions.
“Ex soldiers are mostly unemployed, without a high opinion of themselves, have huge existential problems and are additionaly burdened by post-war health issues. They are often suicidal and wish to solve [through suicide] the social injustice towards themselves and similar people,” Tuzla psychologist Branka Hadzi-Ristic told SETimes.
“A person suffering from PTSD can commit suicide if they are unhappy or sick, but if they are under the constant care and take medication regularly, this should not happen,” Dzubur Kulenovic of the Tuzla PTSD association Stecak told SETimes.
PTSD does not affect only war veterans, but also those who were raped or imprisoned during the war.
Obrad Bubic, representative of Republika Srpska’s Association of Concentration Camp Victims, said that in the last two years nearly 200 former camp inmates sought professional help in Banja Luka.
“PTSD is transferred onto the family and consequently on society and not much is known because these people are not in focus like the war veterans. Instead of experiencing a cozy family atmosphere, many are living in a vortex of fear which will leave a trauma upon generations to come,” Professor Doctor Mevludin Hasanovic, who daily treats PTSD cases, told SETimes.
NGOs and governmental organisations bringing together war veterans from throughout BiH also work on reducing the war-related consequences on mental health and offer joint group work to all who need help.
Associations continue to bear the burden, as BiH entity budgets are not nearly sufficient to deal with the problem.
Banja Luka sociologist Ivan Shijakovic says society has given up on PTSD victims even though they can offer society a lot.
“It does not play to the BiH authorities’ benefit for these individuals to find a way out from illness, so the affected are completely marginalised, left to their own devices and presented to society as weirdos who are to be avoided. The key problem is that we still lack specialised institutions which should seriously undertake such problems,” Sijakovic said.
“We are aware we looked at each other through weapons’ scopes, but now have to heal our wounds ourselves. We are offering a helping hand to identical organisations from the other entity because we are all comrades against the suffering,” an FBiH veteran told SETimes.